Fall T.V Pilots: The Comedies

As a rabidly obsessive fan of serialized dramas (BREAKING BAD!) and various off-brand comedies (LOUIE!) I have been eagerly anticipating the new fall shows. As Emerson students, we have a lot invested in the TV industry. Whichever shows succeed give us an indicator as to what execs are looking for. As writers and artists, we also take note of what garners critical acclaim in order to fine-tune our craft. As a WLP major, I will mostly be analyzing the storytelling prowess of these soon to be cancel-ees or potential classics.

Something new, something borrowed and something crude

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2 BROKE GIRLS, Mondays @930pm on CBS

With these comedy pilots I was able to watch the first two entries, and I have never seen such a shockingly awful discrepancy in quality. In the pilot we are introduced to Max Black (Kat Dennings), a diner waitress with contemptuous remark for every patron. Her boss is an unfortunate stereotype of an Asian restaurant owner, complete with thick accent, meek demeanor and a desperate need for Western approval. The cook is a pervert of some sort of Eastern European descent. His remarks made me sheepishly erupt with laughter at their over-the-top grotesqueness, but I imagine it will get tired, as we always know he is gonna creep us out. Think Herbert from Family Guy. Then, whisked into this Brooklyn diner by the forces of white-collar crime is Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs). Her father is a billionaire who is apparently this universe’s Bernie Madoff and is now serving time, and leaving his daughter with nothing. Max decides against her less humanistic tendencies and lets her crash at her place. At first they are laughably at odds with their understandings of the world, but quickly they find common ground. Caroline helps her see her boyfriend’s cheating ways, and instills confidence in her cupcake-making abilities, leading to the mission statement for the show: the girls will raise $250,000 to start a cupcake shop. This premise and the core leads not only give the show direction and solid characters, but genuinely offers plenty of opportunity for the writers to really go balls-out. Despite many jokes being derived from racial, ethnic, and hipster stereotypes, there is a lot here. Whitney Cummings co-created this show along with her own vehicle, Whitney (see below). This pilot utilizes the dry delivery of Kat Dennings to maximize the “hot girls says dirty things” routine, and it doesn’t feel contrived as her wry wit is consistent. Plus, Behrs goes from being whiny rich girl caricature to endearing very quickly which is wonderful because the Paris Hilton clone would have scared me away. = B+

Ah, but we aren’t done yet! The collapse for the second episode “…And the Break-Up Scene” is nearly as bad as the one the Red Sox just capped off to miss the playoffs (sorry, sore spot). The best way to describe this episode is LAZY. Even MORE stereotypes, an extension of the SAME EXACT PLOT, where Caroline butts in Max’s relationship problems, and she has to convince that the cupcake endeavor is worthwhile. I think the perfect encapsulation of this episode is the collective earnings that we are shown before the credits. The shtick I suppose is that we as an audience have a bearing as to their progress towards the $250K. Well, by the end of this episode our Girls have less money than they had at the end of the pilot. And they lost any good will I had for the show too. Ironically the only fresh bit is where Caroline falls in a pile of horseshit. Yeah, that’s the highlight. Dennings continues to sell me that she can deliver lines, because the few winners truly stuck out (look out for a bit about the relationship ghost and another about masturbating versus crying—trust me on this), but she seems as an actress unenthused about her own material. Of course it could be that 100% of her lines are droll and sarcastic. They aren’t doing their biggest asset any favors. And while I’m sure many men would love to stare at Denning’s ENORMOUS bust for 22 minutes every Monday, there has to be more than clever quips and considerably less stereotype humor and way more originality. = C-

New Girl, Tuesdays @9pm on Fox

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This pilot didn’t sell me as much, but there was a lot more consistency between the two first episodes. Obviously, due to the NUMEROUS promotions you probably know that this is the Zooey Deschanel (but with the name Jess) Show. As a guy who is definitely a fan of her cuteness, but wasn’t sold on her ability to carry a series comedically, I was pleasantly surprised on two fronts. One, she has comedic chops! And even more impressive, she can take throwaway lines and spin them into gold. Not many people could make the idea of a girl who perpetually sings into anything but annoying. She has over-the-top grieving down to a science as we see her stuck as a sullen couch fixture, sniffling repeatedly over Dirty Dancing. Second, the supporting cast is solid. Although my favorite of the three roommates, Coach, has been replaced due to the unforeseen loss of Damon Wayans Jr. His replacement, Lamorne Morris as Winston fits in nicely in the second episode. He isn’t demonstrative like Wayans, but I have seen him do commercials and improv and he will be just fine. The other roommates are Nick (Jake Johnson) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield). I like Nick a lot. In the pilot he is given great material as the guy who clearly hasn’t moved on from his ex, and executes it perfectly. Also as the most level-headed he comes off as almost like a Jason Bateman type straight man, but as long as they feed him funny lines he will be an asset. Schmidt, I have reservations about. As the resident douchebag, I get why he is funny, and the bit about how he must contribute to a “douchebag jar” is clever, but I want to punch him in the face. And even some of the most insufferable characters in comedy are still likable because of the hilarity they engage in. Schmidt needs to go bigger, or go home. the plot itself was very expositional, but in the end touching. I predicted they would bond as more than just roomies, but serenading her with “A Moment Like This” after Jess got stood up was a nice touch. = B

As I mentioned I was encouraged by this show’s second effort, “Kryptonite.” Though it was jarring to see a different character as the third roommate, and the explanation of where the heck he came from was uncomfortably shoehorned into the story, I was still able to enjoy it. I do hope they give new roommate more solo material though, as he is relegated to companion on most jokes, and not given any more characterization than his stint as a pro b-baller in Latvia. Schmidt is still a thorn in my side, but he had probably the funniest line of the episode when he smacks Jess’ ex in the face and cries, “Schmidt Happens! Got some Schmidt on your face!” I totally didn’t expect him to say something actually clever and it kills. Zooey Deschanel continues to be freaking adorable as she tries to fit in with the guys and be more secure with herself. Her major mishap this week is destroying the living room flatscreen when trying to impress Winston with her dribbling skills (clearly a lack of). Though much of her woes from last week linger, it feels fresher because this time she enters a different phase of closure: retrieving her things, and unlike say Kat Dennings, she is delivering her lines with a different physicality. Though it is unfair to compare their varying comedic stylings. Although I must say besides being a ridiculously hot model who Schmidt continues to hit on, Jess’s best friend (whose name escapes me she is so forgettable) does squat. She gotta go, or do more when she is on screen. Like I mentioned it doesn’t feel stale yet, but the Jess getting over her boyfriend and her pals helping her thread needs to wrap up soon or the great lines won’t save this show from being swept under the rug, nauseatingly darling star or not. This episode balances out to about the same quality output. Most of that is the show finding its sea legs. Once they figure out how much Deschanel charm we can take, what brand of Schmidt douchey-ness is funniest and who the hell Winston is this will be a week-to-week pleasure = B

The Good, The Bad, The Whitney

Whitney, Thursdays @930pm on NBC

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Wow, let’s be be upfront with each other. If not for a certain drama to be mentioned later this would be the worst pilot of the season. I have seen Whitney Cummings do standup and was not particularly enamored with her act. She derives her jokes from her sexuality. I’m all for people being sexual beings, but sex isn’t by itself funny. Sexual humor is a booming industry, but you need sufficient characterization, context and plot to make it funny. In this episode we meet Whitney and her boyfriend, Alex (Chris D’Elia) and they are getting ready in front of the mirror together. This instantly felt like one of her bits and I just waited for the theme song. I honestly cannot tell you what happened. Hilarity ensued? The rest of the episode is focused on how in comparison to her friend’s relationship she feels like her sex life is stale. Never seen this before right? She decides role play is the way to go and dresses up in a nurse outfit. By the way, something that bothers me, is Whitney Cummings supposed to be hot? Because I probably wouldn’t kick her out of bed, but, she’s no knockout. I’m curious as to what others might think, I guess. Anyway, she does this mildly chuckle-worthy thing where she makes Alex fill out “paperwork,” but as he tries to disrobe he hits his head pretty seriously. It was such an impact I was wondering if they were killing someone off in the first episode! Bottom line, the supporting cast is forgettable, even borderline offensive with this sexually predatory guy, and the show lacks ambition which at least 2 Broke Girls, Whitney’s other creation has despite its decline. = D

Up All Night, Wednesday @8pm on NBC

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I was both really amped, and incredibly frightened of this show. I love Christina Applegate, would give my kidney to Will Arnett, and I adore Maya Rudolph. But how in the world do we get them equal screen time (which they deserve) and write to all of their strengths (which are are as different as…I don’t know, the arts majors are from comm majors)? It turns out that there is a concrete plan. Applegate and Arnett star as Regan and Chris respectively, new parents to the scrumptiously cute (shocker) newborn Amy. in the pilot a lot of humor is centered around both the parents’ inadequacies. A ginormous wheel of cheese that Chris buys by accident (he got lost and scared in the grocery store). And Regan struggles mightily with a changing diaper, “We are trying to help you!” And where does Maya Rudolph fit in? Well, she portrays Ava, an Oprah-esque talk show host, whose self-titles show claims the same inspirational appeal, “Thanks for growing with us.” Unfortunately this formula is slightly out of whack. Clearly the strength lies in the home where Chris and Regan must reconcile the fact they are no longer cool, no longer the hard core partygoers. Also the comedic chemistry is palpable between the two, enough so that you could see them as sexual partners, but as genuine best friends too. This a rare, honest portrayal of marriage that isn’t found often in T.V except for maybe the recently wrapped Friday Night Lights, a drama from the same network, NBC. At any rate, any time spent at work where Regan is a producer of “Ava” seems like wasted time, and Rudolph comes off as doing an Oprah impression like she did on SNL and not a full-fledged person. I imagine that Rudoplh will adapt as I know she can play a well-rounded, complex character (see Away We Go where she starts alongside Jim Krasinski). For now though, it’s jarring. I can only imagine the more we see these characters the more organic their dynamic will be. = B-

In the second episode, “Cool Neighbors” I was smiling a lot at the progress Applegate and Arnett were already making as a TV couple. Their banter about the music they listen to that is NOT COOL MAN, was very funny and reminded me of my parents. Also their almost childish need for recognition from the titular new neighbors is really amusing. Obviously I was on high alert for how they would utilize Maya Rudolph and it was a mixed bag. Though they did a great job integrating the stories together naturally by having baby Amy visit the office and Ava suffers a wounded ego when she doesn’t immediately love her. Although, her struggles feel extraneous when we are transported to a high-end purse store. Ava resolves to buy Amy’s affections with a “baby wallet.” I must say though this seemingly unnecessary scene it gave rise to the line of the episode, “Where did you get your psychology degree?” “Cal State Dominguez Hills.” This episode also achieved a rare feat of including a lot of pop culture references without taking you out of the show’s universe. It was established early on that these were at least relatively hip Hollywood people who would conceivably be very vain about their music taste. I would totally hang out with both of these rad parents week to week.       = B+  

In my next post I will review the pilots for the 60’s period dramas, a.k.a Mad-Men wannabes; Pan-Am and The Playboy Club. Also on the docket, the sci-fi epic, Terra Nova; a concoction cooked up by Lost creator J.J Abrams and The Dark Knight writer Jonathan Nolan, Person of Interest; and lastly the only extended cable premiere I have had the pleasure of viewing, Showtime’s Homeland. 

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